We’re almost to the finish line of the 2017 Season in Review! September and October are always a little bittersweet in the short racing world, as they signify the final weeks of an exciting season. So how do you distract yourself from the bitter? With some sweet on-track action! Beginning with the Labor Day Classic and ending with the Vermont Milk Bowl, the final three weekends of the 2017 Thunder Road had something for everyone. Champions were crowned, history was made, and legends were born within the span of hours, minutes – and in one case, seconds. Read all about in the final chapter that is the 2017 Thunder Road Season in Review: Part 4! (For Part 3, click here; For Part 2, click here; and for Part 1, click here).
Monday, September 4
The month of September began as the season began back in May: wet. Rainy weather all weekend forced the postponement of the 39th Coca-Cola Labor Day Classic to Monday, September 4, leading to a rare holiday event held on the actual holiday. But once the sun came out, the fans were treated to quite a show. The ACT Late Model Tour made its second visit of the season to the high banks, with 30 entries attempting to qualify for the 26-car field. The event had the usual drama that comes with a 200-lap affair, but in the end, it was déjà vu for one of the top drivers in the Northeast.
Milton’s Scott Payea was looking for the ACT season sweep at Thunder Road after his victory in June. And just like in June, he would have to bounce back from an early crash. After starting mid-pack and struggling early, Payea had just pitted for two new right-side tires and still deep in the pack on lap 60 when Canadian Jonathan Bouvrette got turned around in turn three. Payea sustained significant damage in the resulting scramble and spent lengthy amounts of time in the pits during the ensuing caution. Another yellow two laps later allowed his RPM Motorsports team to make further repairs, and the ACT point leader starting marching his way through the field when the green came back out.
At the front of the field, a pair of 5 cars set the pace early, with Hinesburg’s Bobby Therrien and Waterford, Conn.’s Dillon Moltz each taking long turns at the front. Barre’s Nick Sweet, in his first Late Model start of the season, then swept to the lead on lap 126. And after Moltz got stuck in the pack following a tire change on lap 144 and Therrien encountered problems a few laps later, Sweet looked to be in control. But the caution came out with 15 laps to go for Cody Blake’s flat right front tire, putting the resurgent Payea at Sweet’s door. Sweet had elected to run the entire race on the same right-side tires, and fresher rubber gave Payea the advantage in the end, as he took the lead with 11 laps to go for his fifth ACT win of the season and second at Thunder Road. Milton’s Scott Dragon also got around Sweet in the closing laps for second.
In the support division, it was “First Time Winner’s Day”, as three different drivers visited Victory Lane for the first time in their class. In the Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel Flying Tigers, Waitsfield rookie Kyle Streeter and Essex veteran Mike Billado put on a spectacular side-by-side show in the final stages of the 40-lap feature. Streeter had led the event from the pole, but a trio of late-race restarts gave Billado the chance to make a move. However, Billado got into turn three a little too hard on the final lap and slid up the track, allowing Streeter to escape with his first Tiger win. Craftsbury Common’s Mike Martin also got under Billado for second in the final corner. Jason Woodard and Brendan Moodie finished eighth and ninth, giving Woodard a 24-point lead with one championship event remaining.
The Allen Lumber Street Stocks saw a very emotional – and very popular – winner as South Burlington’s Michael Gay took the checkered flag. “The Biffer” had competed in the Street Stocks off and on for the past nine seasons, with a victory always eluding him. But this day, he grabbed the lead on the opening lap of the 25-lap feature and never let it go. After holding off rookie Logan Powers of Middlesex on a pair of late restarts – along with a race back to the line after title contenders Brandon Lanphear and Dean Switser Jr. tangled on the final lap – The Biffer was finally a winner, setting off one of the most enthusiastic celebrations of the year.
Waterbury Center’s Kelsea Woodard finished third, setting up a four-driver race for the Street Stock title in the regular season finale. Wolcott’s Jamie Davis held the lead by two points over Hinesburg’s Cooper Bouchard following a fifth-place finish, with Fairfax’s Alan Maynard five points back and Woodard 13 points out of the lead. Morrisville’s Edward Bowen Jr. completed the first-time winner’s trifecta by capturing the Burnett Scrap Metals Road Warriors feature. Bowen got the lead early from Julian Gorman in the 20-lap event and cruised to the win. Barre’s Tyler Pepin finished second while Johnson’s Michael Stearns beat out a mad last-lap dash to the line for third.
Sunday, September 10
The following Sunday would be Community College of Vermont Championship Day. The event was originally planned for Friday, September 8, for the third time in 2017, Mother Nature forced the postponement of the CCV event. (We’re trying to mediate things between the two for next year.)
The first champion crowned would be in the Allen Lumber Street Stocks with four drivers looking to win the crown in their 35-lap feature. The title chase took a big turn just before the halfway point when Stephen Martin spun on the frontstretch after contact with Logan Powers fighting for the second spot. While Jamie Davis and Kelsea Woodard were able to avoid the resulting melee, Cooper Bouchard and Alan Maynard were not, with Maynard eventually forced out of the event and Bouchard left fighting from behind.
That left Davis and Woodard to fight it out for the title, and after Davis got underneath Woodard for the third spot with just over 10 laps to go, he sat in the catbird seat. Davis then inherited the lead when Tom Campbell and Tommy Smith tangled with six laps to go, and he put a stamp on his second Street Stock title by motoring to the win. Powers and Woodard finished second and third for the second straight week, while Bouchard was able to get back up to sixth and hold on to the second spot in the final standings. Martin recovered to take seventh, giving him the Rookie of the Year title by one point over Powers.
The Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel Flying Tigers were the next division to determine their champion in a 50-lap event. Waterbury Center’s Jason Woodard needed to finish 10th or better to claim the title over Wolcott’s Brendan Moodie. With Moodie working his way to the front, Woodard did the same, and both eventually found themselves in the top-three. But on this day, neither driver had anything for Dwayne Lanphear. After returning to the Tiger division in 2017 and posting seven podium finishes heading into this day, it was finally his time to carry the checkered flag.
Lanphear flew through the field from his ninth starting spot, and by lap 15, he had gotten around Robert Gordon for the lead. He then held off a challenge from Woodard following the final caution on lap 26 and pulled away for the victory. Woodard finished second to Moodie’s third, giving Woodard his second Tiger championship and leaving Moodie as the runner-up for the third time in four seasons. Jaden Perry finished fifth and officially clinched the Rookie of the Year title.
That left the “King of the Road” title to be decided in a 65-lap feature for the Thunder Road Late Models. Despite Trampas Demers’ win in the Maplewood Semi-Feature, Hinesburg’s Bobby Therrien entered the main event with a 28-point lead over South Burlington’s Demers, needing a 13th-place finish to clinch the title. But Therrien wasn’t about to settle for squeaking by. He expertly marched through the field from his 15th starting position and was up to fifth win the final caution came out on lap 36.
After battling with Chris Pelkey for nearly 20 laps following the restart, Therrien found his way to third at the checkered flag to Demers’ seventh. The result made Therrien the “King of the Road” and also made him the first driver in the track’s history to win a title in the Late Models, Flying Tigers, and Street Stocks. At the front of the field, the final regular-season event was all Boomer Morris. Taking to the track for the first time since his most recent hard crash on August 17, Morris ran away from the pack, easily fending off challenges on both restarts for his second win of the season. Milton’s Eric Chase finished second.
Saturday, September 30
The final race weekend of the 2017 Thunder Road season began with Booth Bros./H.P. Hood Milk Bowl Qualifying Day. After the blazing fast speeds posted early in the season on the new pavement and again at a practice day on September 29, a number of drivers were tabbed as potential favorites to break the official track record of 12.245 seconds during time trials. In the end, one driver did set a new mark – but not the one anybody was expecting. Wolcott’s Marcel J. Gravel went out 32nd in the time trial order, and on his first timed lap, the 21-year-old circled the quarter-mile oval in 12.236 seconds, earning the pole and entering his name into the Thunder Road record books. Trampas Demers was just 0.031 seconds behind to put him second on the starting grid.
The Twin 50 qualifying races were just as dramatic, with a pair of former “Kings of the Road” earning the victories. Nick Sweet showed he was a very real threat to take his third straight Milk Bowl in the first Twin 50, as Sweet got the jump over newly crowned Thunder Road Champion Bobby Therrien on a lap 43 restart. He then held off Therrien and Scott Payea on a trio of late-race restarts, with all three looking like Milk Bowl contenders. Scott Dragon came out of a slugfest in the second Twin 50, going at it with Jason Corliss and Jimmy Hebert over the final 14 laps to get the win.
Three “Mini Milk Bowls” were on tap for the weekend as well, with Segment 1 of each held on Saturday. Mike Martin emerged as the winner in the 40-lap Segment 1 for the Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel Flying Tigers, dueling with Dwayne Lanphear for 10 laps before outgunning him on a restart with three circuits remaining. Fellow Craftsbury Common native Joel Hodgdon slid underneath Lanphear during the final run to finish second. Lyndonville’s Dean Switser Jr. went pole-to-pole in Segment 1 for the Allen Lumber Street Stocks, earning the top spot in time trials and never facing a serious challenge. Lincoln’s Garry Bashaw and East Thetford’s Brandon Gray were second and third. Lower Waterford’s Andy Hill grabbed the lead on lap four of the 20-lap New England Dwarf Cars Segment 1 and held on for the victory over Jason Wyman and polesitter Dave Gyger.
Sunday, October 1
The season at Thunder Road concluded with the 55th Vermont Milk Bowl presented by Northfield Savings Bank. Twenty-six of the top Late Model drivers in the Northeast took the green flag in Segment 1, and the action was hot right from the get-go. The first segment came down to outside polesitter Trampas Demers and three-time Milk Bowl winner Nick Sweet. Demers had dominated the segment off the outside pole and initially pulled away following a restart on lap 39. But Sweet came alive in the final circuits, charging up the outside groove to take the Segment 1 win and get an early edge in his bid for a fourth Milk Bowl crown. Demers, Bobby Therrien, Jason Corliss, and Scott Payea followed him across the line to establish themselves as the early contenders.
The Allen Lumber Street Stocks then took the track for the final 25-lap segment of their Mini Milk Bowl. After finishing fourth in Segment 1 on Saturday, Morrisville’s Will Hennequin was the class of the field on Sunday. “The Weiner” was up to second when a trio of caution flags littered the 22nd and 23rd laps, beginning with Kelsea Woodard’s solo spin and ending with Champion Jamie Davis upside down on the frontstretch. Hennequin grabbed the lead from Al Maynard right before Davis flip and went on to both the segment win and the overall victory with five total points. Segment 1 winner Dean Switser Jr. took second overall after finishing fifth on Sunday while Garry Bashaw finished third in the final rundown.
Next up was Milk Bowl Segment 2, which as is custom, was a wild affair. A lap three crash scrambled the early running order and eliminated several hopefuls from contention for the win, including polesitter Marcel J. Gravel and Segment 1 hard charger Brooks Clark. At the front, Scott Dragon dominated after a spin late in the first segment put him on the pole. But a deflating right front tire saw him go sliding into the turn four wall with nine laps to go, clipping the back of Nick Sweet in the process, who made a miraculous save to keep his spot. Scott Payea got the jump on Darrell Morin following the restart and went on to the Segment 2 win, followed by Morin, Matt White, Sweet, Corliss, and Demers. The result was four drivers in close quarters for the overall title, as Sweet sat with five points, Payea with six, Demers with eight, and Corliss with nine.
The final segment for the New England Dwarf Cars was next on the calendar. Andy Hill had triumphed in the first segment on Saturday, and he sliced through the field in Segment 2, charging up to a third-place finish in the caution-free 20-lap segment. With a combined score of four points, he took the overall win in the special event. Tommy Smithers took second in the segment to win a tiebreaker with Jason Wyman for the overall runner-up. Kevin Wyman was the Segment 3 winner.
The Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel Flying Tigers then came out for the second 40-lap segment in their Mini Milk Bowl – but the outcome wouldn’t be decided until more than a week later. Jason Woodard appeared to have put a stamp on his championship season with his fifth win of the season after finishing runner-up in the Segment to Grand Isle’s Joe Steffen, giving him seven total points. But lab tests conducted the following week concluded that a tire had been illegally altered, stripping Woodard of his victory. Dwayne Lanphear inherited the win after finishing third and fifth in the two segments, giving him back-to-back victories to close out the season. Mike Martin (1st, 9th) and Derrick Calkins (7th, 4th) took second and third overall.
At last, it was time for the third and final segment of the Vermont Milk Bowl. Nick Sweet was the clear favorite for a record-tying fourth Milk Bowl win, but tire strategy backfired and left him way back in the pack with an ill-handling race car. Meanwhile, Scott Payea found himself boxed in traffic for much the event. As Scott Dragon chased down Marcel J. Gravel for the Segment 3 win, it was Trampas Demers and Jason Corliss working their way to the front, and they found themselves fourth and fifth in the closing laps, ready to decide the Milk Bowl among themselves. With 12 laps remaining, it was Corliss executing a perfect crossover move, diving beneath Demers entering turn one and wresting the position away three laps later. Demers would then try his own crossover move, but Corliss was too strong, going on a fourth-place result in the segment and 13 total points – earning the win on a tiebreaker over Demers. After finishing runner-up in the Milk Bowl the previous year, it was sweet redemption for Corliss to cap an unforgettable year.
And just like that, the 2017 Thunder Road racing season was over. It was a dramatic season full of exciting action, close point battles, and the occasional controversy, and the entire track was thrilled that everyone came along for the ride. We hope you enjoyed this four-part look back at the season and that you all join us once again in 2018. Stay tuned for announcements regarding the 2018 and check back soon for more fun offseason content!